I’ve had a few people tell me they see me as an expert on everything Norse. A few others remarked they’d probably get more out of Why Odin Drinks if they knew more about the “real” mythology. Eeep! Don’t try this at home! Do you know how much stuff I totally destroyed to make up my own stuff?! You don’t, so I’ll tell you. Buckle up.
It took over 200 years from Iceland’s christianisation before Snorri Sturluson got to writing Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. Have you ever played the telephone game? Imagine doing that for 200 years, writing down the results, and announcing this is exactly right. Except you might also get executed if you sound too excited about it.
The mythology (I recommend Kevin Crossley-Holland’s book The Penguin Book of Norse Myths) contradicts itself. It already contradicts itself in the first paragraph of the creation myth! Sometimes, myth A must happen before myth B, and vice versa. Some parts of the myths and Sagas have only survived partially. Some are hotly disputed, often depending on people’s agendas. (Crossley-Holland has his own, but he’s clear about it and lists other possible interpretations.)
I play fast and loose with what I know, which often isn’t all that much. I’m writing satire based on Norse mythology. I make up complete stories because there’s one sentence in the Eddas that inspires me. I create my own canon. If I say Baldr is Frigg’s favourite horse, he can’t turn out to be her son five books from now. That’s what limits me. Snorri’s versions are only a starting point.
Here’s the “original” myth of creation.
In the beginning there was Surtr
Here is how life began: the flames of Müspelheim and the ice of Niflheim met in a void called the Ginnungagap, creating steam, from which came a giant called Ymir.
Except Surtr, the God of fire, was already in Müspelheim before this happened, very much alive and ready to destroy the Universe that doesn’t exist at this point.
So, back to Ymir. He is a giant. Hard to say compared to whom. Possibly Surtr, although I don’t think so. Also, names already exist. When Ymir goes to sleep – it is not clear where; in the void, I assume – his armpits begin to sweat. This ooze creates the first man and first woman. (Gross.) His leg fathers a son on the other leg. (This is neither how legs or fathering work, but ‘k.) As the ice continues to melt, the fluids take the form of a cow, named Audhumla.
Please don’t ask me how anyone knew she was a cow and not an oversized chihuahua. Anyway, Ymir (the giant) feeds on her milk, while the cow feeds on ice. The ice is salty (not in the passive-aggressive way) and apparently very nutritious, and as Audhumla keeps licking on it, she licks out a man named Buri. Who – the myth sez – is tall, strong, and good-looking. There isn’t much competition – one sweaty giant, his armpits’ offspring, and his legs’ offspring – so this is a low bar to clear. Although probably not the tall bit when compared to a giant. Anyway, the myth continues, in time Buri has a son named Bor (perhaps his legs hump to achieve that, as there is no licked-out woman available) who marries a daughter of Bolthor, one of the non-armpitty frost giants (Ymir must have had restless leg syndrome), named Bestla. AND NOW FINALLY WE GET TO THE BIT where Bestla gives birth to Odin, Vili, and Vé.
Here the myth takes a break to remind us there is “no earth or heaven above,” only the fires of Müspelheim, the ice of Niflheim, and the godsdamn void where, I assume, they all float, cosmonaut-like. This is a writing technique called lampshading.
Anyway, the three brothers think Ymir is, like, super irritating and so is his “growing gang of unruly, brutal frost giants” (THIS IS A QUOTE FROM CROSSLEY-HOLLAND DO NOT ASK ME WHERE THE GANG CAME FROM). So they eventually go and kill him.
Aha, forgot to mention that Ymir is “evil from the start.” The Northmen did not use the words “good” and “evil” and also all Ymir does is sweat out people and bang his own legs and doesn’t kill anybody unlike some but ‘k.
There is so much blood inside Ymir that it drowns everyone except Bergelmir and his wife. You don’t know who Bergelmir is? Neither do I. Wikipedia sez grandson of Ymir, who by then had his name legally changed, which doesn’t matter due to him being dead. Those two make a boat out of a hollowed tree trunk (please don’t ask me where they got the tree) and “ride on a tide of gore.” (Gross.)
NOW THE GOOD PART COMES.
Odin, Vili, and Vé, did not drown in streams of blood that KILLED ALL THE GIANTS. I guess they are v. good swimmers. They take the giant’s body (HOW?! How do they lift the body so giant – oops – that its armpits gave birth to other giants which then all drowned in his blood? How do they not drown in that blood while lifting its source? Also do you know how lifting things works? Or gravity?) and get it to the middle of Ginnungagap. Which is a godsdamn void. So I guess they walk in the void, carrying a giant’s body, until they are like: well, this seems to be the exact middle of the void. Yeah, just feels kinda central. So, now they decide to make a world.
Here is how they go about it.
The brothers create worlds from available material (Ymir (RIP))
- Ymir’s flesh is used to create earth.
- Ymir’s ribs are used to create mountains.
- Teeth, jaws, etc. become boulders. (I would like to remind you here that those three bros carried enough of a giant to create mountains and earth and stuff. While walking on void. Do you even lift, bro?)
- The blood is used for lakes and sea, and once they are done they take some more of it (I guess it just… waits in the void?) to put an ocean around that world.
- The skull becomes the sky. Its four corners reach to the ends of the earth. Look, giants might have skulls with corners. Have you ever met a giant big enough to make a world from? I thought so. Have I mentioned those three bros carried a giant with sky-sized skull all by themselves?
- Each of those corners receives one (1) dwarf. They are named East, West, North, and South. Where exactly a whole new species/race came from is a mystery. Possibly Ymir’s toes kept convulsing after he died and his blood drowned, like, everyone, and then while the dead-giant-filled-blood waited to be turned into ocean and stuff, four dwarfs were like “oh here we are suddenly existing, wait, are those toes? Not to kink-shame, but who has their own dead toe fetish?!” anyway, there they are under the corners of the skull. Bored out of their skulls, probably (ohohoho)
- The three brothers use sparks and embers from Müspelheim (let’s just assume those are really cold embers or the brothers have really thick calluses from all this killing and building) and make them into stars by putting them high in the Ginnungagap. How do you put stuff high in a bloody (I have no regrets) void?! Isn’t there a four-cornered skull above the world already? If you put the embers inside the skull, does it count as– oh, forget it. Anyway, stars and sun and moon: done.
- The earth is round. The earth with four cornered skull sky is round. I can’t emphasise this enough.
- Now the brothers divide all that into separate worlds. Jötunheim is given to the remaining two giants, who were last seen busy in their boat made of a hollow tree, swimming in a stream of blood that drowned all their kin. The giants are kinda hostile, which tbh doesn’t surprise me. So the three Gods (by now it is rather obvious they are Gods) use Ymir’s eyebrows to create an enclosure out of an island they call Midgard. EYEBROWS. Hasn’t poor Ymir been through enough?! Also, where were they keeping those eyebrows, which are attached to skin, after the skull was removed… actually, I don’t want to know. Finally, they throw chunks of Ymir’s brain into the skull-sky where ember stars float happily, and that brain becomes clouds.
This is why I drink.
First man and first woman
(You might recall that the first man and the first woman actually came from Ymir’s (RIP) armpits, but ‘k.)
So, Odin, Vili, and Vé are taking a casual stroll along the seashore, which I am sure smells amazing due to the sea being made of blood and the beach of rotten meat, and they find two fallen trees: an ash and an elm. How they know those are an ash and an elm and where the trees came from is not clear, but probably from the same place where Bergelmir and his wife found that hollow tree. So, they (the Gods, not Bergelmir and his wife) take branches from those trees and breathe life into them. Ask (ash) and Embla (elm) become the first man and woman, from whom all the races are born. Except, I gather, the frost giants. And dwarfs. And Surtr. And Gods. But apart from that.
This is the last time Vili and Vé get any mention at all in the mythology. (One of them pops up briefly during Ragnarök.) Knowing their tempers, they probably kill each other in a berserk frenzy, or Odin kills them and makes something out of their ears and fingernails. Hot tubs and mirrors, or whatevs. Those
people Gods need therapy.
Oh yeah, the dwarfs. So the four that guard the corners of the sky-skull covering round multi-world earth made of meat are kinda just standing there, but ERMAGERD! MAGGOTS come out of Ymir’s flesh. WHICH EVERYONE LIVES ON. GROSS. And those man-like maggots (CROSSLEY-HOLLAND’S WORDS) (I KNOW THAT IS A LOT OF ALL CAPS BUT ALSO YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I AM SKIPPING HERE) then move into chambers, grottos, and caverns (so many puns) underneath the mountains made of Ymir’s ribs.
OH NO WAIT it says “the sons of Bor” now build Ásgard. So technically Vili and Vé might be getting a mention, although who knows, maybe Bor had like 2948 sons and the others were just sleeping in the corners of the void. It does not say what parts of Ymir were left for building Ásgard. Leg hair and nipples, or something. Now all of the Æsir, the dwellers of Ásgard, move in from Midgard. Odin, the All-Father, is the president, there are 24 ministers (12 men and 12 women), and a parliament, aka “a great assembly of other Æsir.” Where all of them come from is not explained.
So, I skip all of this because I mean look at it. Just look.
My version opens with the three brothers waking up under the roots of Yggdrasil, the Tree that grows in all of the worlds. They randomly wander into one of those worlds, which they don’t know will be called Midgard, because they didn’t quite get to inventing world names yet.
Or, actually, inventing anything.
Imagine letting three overactive and competitive four-year olds with ALL THE POWERS have a Universe to do whatever they like with and no adult supervision. That’s my story.
I skip the whole giant-sweat-armpits-first man and woman-who are later replaced by other first man and woman-and also lots of Ymir’s leg-generated offspring having drowned in his blood-and finding middles of voids because like nobody cares, mythology. This is supposed to be funny and actually make some sense. Do you even know what sense is, mythology? Don’t answer that.
(The only bit that is slightly enhanced by knowing the original myth is Odin thinking that it makes no sense to start existing under a tree, instead of emerging from a giant’s armpits.)
Why I created Creation
I started writing those stories in the first place because of mythology’s plot holes. This one, specifically, was inspired by me wondering what happened to Odin’s brothers. In my version, the only non-divine things in existence are the earth, the sky, the Tree, and confusion. Vili has creativity; Vé – competitiveness and a bit of nastiness; Odin is the only one who understands (vaguely) the idea of consequences. Vili creates pretty plants, Odin makes them grow fruit, and Vé gives them thorns.
Audhumla’s part was one of the first I have written, because anthropomorphised cows are both funny and versatile. You can, indeed, feed yourself with milk products, unless you’re allergic to dairy, in which case blame Vé. You can dress up in the cow’s skin, sort of. Once you take the cow’s skin off, what falls out of it is meat. But then, if you’re only into milk, the cow stays alive. Once you take the skin off and the meat falls out, it isn’t. Is skin life?
Water in a stream moves, but isn’t alive. Trees are quite stationary, but are alive. Fire moves, feeds itself, reproduces, grows, shrinks, dies. Why is fire not alive? (Because it has no DNA code. Seriously.) All of a sudden, as Vili runs around creating peacocks and Vé – wolves, Odin realises that wolves need a natural predator, too. Then that predator will need a natural predator. And so on. Perhaps it’s better to stop at wolves? However, if you just let wolves reproduce without creating anything that would kill them, you’ll very soon have an awful lot of wolves and possibly fewer Gods. One, Odin thinks, would be a really good number of Gods. Is it safe to let wolves develop taste for God-flesh, though? Maybe he should create something stronger than wolves, but weaker than he is. Something that looks, walks, and talks like Gods, but isn’t…
Come back soon for part two, where I talk about the second story, ‘Fashionteller’ in much less detail.